Bill Delaney follows the ballot express
CNN Boston Bureau Chief Bill Delaney kept watch Thursday on a Ryder truck packed with ballots from Palm Beach County, Florida, as it headed for the state capital, Tallahassee, where the ballots could be counted or examined during Vice President Al Gore's legal challenge to the Florida vote.
Q: What is the atmosphere surrounding the truck as it moves through the state?
Delaney: There's both a carnival atmosphere here and something very serious going on. The carnival atmosphere was evident, for example, at a rest stop, when the now-famous Ryder truck pulled over and some parents had one of their children photographed with the truck -- put him on the bumper and had him photographed.
Now, at the same time, inside this truck are 462,000 ballots; among these ballots, conceivably, are votes that could change the outcome of the election. The Democrats allege that among these ballots are 3,300 that were counted as blanks, but, they say, should have been counted as votes for Vice President Al Gore.
... Those 162 metal boxes inside the Ryder truck contain those ballots, also possibly contain, maybe, the deciding votes as to who will be the next president of the United States.
Q: Who is actually out on the road following the truck? Are there many police and journalists crowding the procession?
Delaney: What you've got is about 10 or so journalists following the van; at periods, we've had helicopters overhead. Then, you've got a security detail: two, maybe three -- it's hard for us to tell -- unmarked sheriff's cars surrounding the yellow Ryder truck. As I say, they're unmarked, no obvious sign that they're police.
Q: Where, exactly, are the ballots headed?
Delaney: They go to the Leon County Circuit Court (in Tallahassee), where Judge Sanders Sauls is presiding in the post-election contest phase of all this. He's the judge who ordered all the ballots sent up to his courthouse in case he decides -- and apparently the decision will be made Saturday -- whether he wants to recount some or all of them, or re-examine some or all of the ballots.
Q: What precautions were taken to protect these ballots, to ensure that the so-called pregnant chads and hanging chads are not disturbed?
Delaney: I think the only thing they can really do is to handle these ballots with a degree of deference and a degree of care. Of course, Republicans, in particular, are concerned with the ... re-handling of these ballots. They have been counted a number of times now, and the Republicans certainly expressed concern about them being packed up again.
On the other hand, they are in 162 very heavy, silver metal boxes that weigh 20 or 30 pounds each. It's quite a cargo in this Ryder van. It's a cargo of a few thousand pounds of boxes and ballots. So they're quite secure, locked up in their boxes. But to move a ballot that might have something hanging from it, to touch a ballot that could become scratched; it all seems to matter in this extraordinary odyssey we're all in the middle of.
Q: How did this journey begin this morning?
Delaney: This all started in the predawn hours in West Palm Beach. They packed up the metal crates. They were inspected by the elections supervisor in Palm Beach County. They were also inspected by Democratic and Republican lawyer representatives, who were checking to make sure that each precinct was indeed represented. ... Then they were loaded into the Ryder truck. And sometime around 10-of-8 this morning, the truck headed off into midmorning rush hour in West Palm Beach. It didn't move very well until it finally got to the Florida Turnpike, but they've been moving at a steady 70 miles an hour ever since.
Q: Are there any other aspects to this "odyssey" you'd like to discuss?
Delaney: There was concern that there could conceivably be roadblocks or hindrances -- or protests, even -- along the route. We've seen nothing of that; it's been very smooth sailing since we left West Palm Beach.